This Cold War timeline contains important dates and events from 1950 to 1959. This period covers the second Red Scare, McCarthyism, the birth of the Space Race and the rise of a new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest an entry for inclusion in this timeline, please contact Alpha History.
January 5th: Against advice from the United States, Great Britain formally recognises the People’s Republic of China.
January 12th: US Secretary of State Dean Acheson delivers his ‘Perimeter Speech‘ outlining US foreign policy and military strategy with regard to Asia.
January 21st: US State Department employee and suspected spy Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury.
January 24th: German scientist Klaus Fuchs reveals himself to be a spy and admits to passing nuclear secrets to the Soviets. Fuchs is later charged with espionage.
January 31st: US president Harry Truman authorises the development of a hydrogen bomb, a fusion bomb capable of greater destructive power than atomic weapons.
February 9th: Speaking in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy alleges that the US State Department has 205 communists among its employees. This speech begins the Second Red Scare or ‘McCarthyism’.
February 14th: Following talks between Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, the Soviet Union and China sign the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance.
March 1st: A British court finds Klaus Fuchs guilty of spying. He is sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment and stripped of his British citizenship.
April 14th: US president Harry Truman receives National Security Council Report 68, urging a significant increase in military spending to support the containment of communism. He approves its recommendations on April 25th.
June 22nd: North Korean forces invade South Korea, triggering the Korean War. The United Nations commits a coalition force to assist and defend South Korea.
July 4th: An early contingent from the United Nations clashes with North Korean forces but is forced to retreat south.
August 8th: Winston Churchill expresses support for the formation of a European coalition force allied with the US.
September 30th: United Nations forces land near Inchon, retake Seoul and begin pushing the North Koreans back into their own territory. They cross the 38th parallel three days later.
October 20th: The Australian parliament passes the Communist Party Dissolution Act, legislation declaring the party an “unlawful association”.
October 22nd: The United Nations coalition captures the North Korean capital Pyongyang. Having mobilised for two weeks, Chinese forces cross the border and enter the conflict. Within weeks United Nations troops are forced back south.
January 4th: Chinese forces capture the South Korean capital Seoul, after losing it the previous September.
March 9th: The Australian High Court declares the Communist Party Dissolution Act, passed the previous October, to be unconstitutional. Prime minister Robert Menzies promises to seek a referendum on the matter.
April 5th: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for passing nuclear secrets to Soviet agents.
April 11th: US general Douglas MacArthur is removed as commander of American forces in Korea, after making public criticisms of the Truman administration and its policies.
April 21st: The Soviet Union forms the National Olympic Committee, to prepare for its involvement in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
April 23rd: William Oatis, an American foreign correspondent in Prague, is arrested by Czechoslovakian authorities and charged with espionage. The charges are based only on information published in Oatis’ news reports.
May 9th: The US begins Operation Greenhouse, testing its first thermonuclear weapon, or hydrogen bomb, in the Marshall Islands.
July 4th: In Prague, William Oatis is sentenced to ten years in prison. He is released in May 1953, following the death of Joseph Stalin and pressure from the US government.
September 1st: The US, Australia and New Zealand sign ANZUS, a tripartite defence treaty.
September 8th: The US and 47 other nations sign the Treaty of San Francisco, resolving World War II hostilities with Japan. The Soviet Union and several Soviet bloc countries do not sign, opting to sign their own treaty with Japan.
September 22nd: The Australian people vote down a proposed change to the constitution that would allow the government to ban the Communist Party.
October 6th: Communist guerrillas in Malaya ambush and execute the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney.
October 10th: The US passes the Mutual Security Act, providing aid to foreign allies.
February 18th: Greece and Turkey are granted membership of NATO.
March 10th: Joseph Stalin proposes a newly unified Germany, an attempt to avoid West Germany being integrated into NATO.
June 30th: The Marshall Plan comes to its official end, with European production now significantly improved.
October 2nd: The United Kingdom tests its first atomic weapon, becoming the world’s third nuclear power.
November 1st: The US detonates a thermonuclear weapon called ‘Ivy Mike’ in the Marshall Islands. Its yield is 10.4 megatons, more than 400 times more powerful than the atomic devices used against Japan in World War II.
November 4th: Former World War II military commander Dwight Eisenhower is elected president of the United States. Eisenhower defeats Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, carrying 39 states to Stevenson’s nine.
January 6th: The first meeting of the Asian Socialist Conference begins in Rangoon, Burma. It is attended by socialist party leaders from nine Asian nations.
January 20th: Dwight Eisenhower is sworn in as the 34th president of the United States.
March 1st: Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin suffers a crippling stroke and is not discovered for several hours.
March 5th: Joseph Stalin dies, having never regained consciousness. He has not nominated a successor and it is unclear who will replace him as leader of the Soviet Union.
June 16th: Construction workers in East Berlin go on strike, protesting increases in their work quotas. Their strike grows into a public demonstration and protest involving around 50,000 East Germans.
June 17th: East German police and Soviet troops suppress the uprising in East Berlin, killing between 200 and 800 protestors.
June 19th: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed in the electric chair in New York, despite numerous pleas for clemency.
July 27th: Fighting ends in the Korean War, with the signing of an armistice at Panmunjom. A demilitarised zone is established to separate the two Koreas.
August 8th: Soviet minister Georgi Malenkov announces that the USSR has successfully tested a thermonuclear weapon.
August 19th: The US and Britain orchestrate a coup that overthrows Mohammad Mosaddegh, the prime minister of Iran. Mosaddegh had nationalised Iran’s oil industry, causing significant losses for British companies.
September 5th: The United Nations refuses to grant membership to the People’s Republic of China.
September 7th: Nikita Khrushchev becomes the leader of the Communist Party in Soviet Russia.
October 30th: President Eisenhower receives National Security Council report 162/2. It recommends expanding and maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, to inflict “massive retaliatory damage” in the event of a war with the Soviet Union.
January 12th: US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, speaking at a Council of Foreign Relations dinner, says the US will protect its allies with “massive retaliatory power”. Many consider this the starting point for the doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’.
January 21st: The launching of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine.
March 9th: Television journalist Edward R. Murrow delivers a half-hour report on Senator Joseph McCarthy. The program ends with Murrow delivering a scathing evaluation of McCarthy and his tactics.
April 22nd: The US Army-McCarthy hearings begin in Washington DC. These hearings, which are televised, expose McCarthy’s questioning to a wider audience.
May 7th: Viet Minh forces defeat the French at Dien Bien Phu. The French later withdraw from Vietnam.
June: Senator Joseph McCarthy alleges that communists have infiltrated the CIA and the military.
June 27th: Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz is overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA and John Foster Dulles, whose personal investments had been affected by Arbenz’s policies.
July 23rd: Gamal Nasser, a former military officer with pro-Soviet views, seizes power in Egypt.
September 3rd: The People’s Republic of China begins shelling islands occupied by former Nationalists.
September 8th: The formation of the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO), an eight-nation alliance for the purpose of resisting communism.
December 2nd: The US Senate passes a motion censuring Joseph McCarthy.
January 28th: The US Congress authorises president Dwight Eisenhower to use force to defend Taiwan if it is attacked by the People’s Republic of China.
April 5th: The Baghdad Pact, later described as the ‘Middle Eastern NATO’, is signed by Britain, Turkey and Iraq. Iran and Pakistan join later in 1955.
April 18th: At the behest of Moscow, Imre Nagy is removed as the chief minister of Hungary.
May 8th: West Germany is granted membership of NATO and begins receiving military assistance from the Western powers.
May 14th: The Soviet Union and seven of its satellite nations sign a mutual defence treaty, later dubbed the Warsaw Pact.
July 18th: US president Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, along with leaders from Britain and France, hold a five-day summit in Geneva.
August 4th: An American U-2 spy plane makes its first flight over Soviet territory.
October 29th: The Soviet battleship Novorossiysk explodes in Sevastopol, probably after tripping a World War II mine. The ship capsizes and 608 Soviet sailors are killed.
February 25th: Nikita Khrushchev delivers his ‘Secret Speech‘ denouncing the personality cult and crimes of the Stalin era.
June 28th: Workers in Poland riot against poor conditions and political oppression. This unrest leads to the replacement of the Polish government in October.
July 26th: Egyptian ruler Gamal Nasser, now aligned with the Soviet Union, seizes and claims ownership of the Suez Canal.
October 23rd: Anti-Soviet demonstrations in Budapest become violent, leading to the outbreak of the Hungarian Uprising.
October 29th: A three-nation force enters the Suez region, expels Egyptian troops and regains control of the Suez Canal.
November 1st: The leader of the Hungarian Revolution, Imre Nagy, announces that Hungary is withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact.
November 4th: Soviet tank units cross the border, enter Budapest and begin crushing the Hungarian Uprising.
November 22nd: Imre Nagy is arrested by Soviet authorities after leaving the Yugoslav embassy. He is whisked away to Romania for interrogation.
December 6th: The ‘Blood in the Water‘ water polo match at the Olympic Games in Melbourne. The Hungarians win the match 4-0 but not before rough and violent encounters between several players.
January 5th: US president Dwight Eisenhower promises military intervention to assist Middle Eastern nations if they were threatened by communist aggression. This position becomes known as the Eisenhower Doctrine.
February 15th: Andrei Gromyko is appointed the foreign minister of the Soviet Union, replacing Dmitri Shepilov.
May 2nd: Senator Joseph McCarthy dies after a short struggle with alcoholism-related illness.
October 1st: The US Strategic Air Command begins an around the clock watch for incoming Soviet missiles. This continues for the duration of the Cold War.
October 4th: The Soviets launch Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, into orbit.
November 3rd: The Soviets launch Sputnik II, a satellite containing a dog named Laika, the first living creature in space. Laika dies within hours of the launch, however, the Soviets claim she survived for several days.
November 7th: President Eisenhower receives a report from his scientific advisory committee. The Gaither Report, as it becomes known, announces a ‘missile gap’ and recommends the construction of more missiles and a network of nuclear shelters.
January 31st: The US launches Explorer 1, its first man-made satellite.
March 27th: Nikita Khrushchev’s de facto leadership of the Soviet Union is formalised with his appointment as Premier.
April 14th: American pianist Van Cliburn wins the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. The judging panel declares Cliburn the winner only after consulting Khrushchev.
June 16th: Imre Nagy, the leader of the Hungarian Uprising in late 1956, is executed by the Soviet government.
July 14th: King Faisal II of Iraq is overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’etat led by young army officers. Iraq enters a decade of political instability and its new leaders seek alliances with Soviet bloc countries.
July 15th: Dwight Eisenhower deploys the US Navy and Marines to Lebanon to support the pro-Western government there.
July 29th: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is formed in the US.
August: The US military deploys ‘Thor’ medium-range ballistic missiles in England. The Thor is capable of launching a nuclear strike on Moscow.
August 23rd: US warships are sent into the Taiwan Strait after the People’s Republic of China bombards the island of Kinmen and Taiwanese forces return fire. The fighting continues for a month and claims almost 3,000 lives.
September 2nd: An American C-130 reconnaissance plane is shot down by MiG fighters after straying into Soviet airspace. All six crewmen were killed, while the fate of 11 intelligence agents on the plane is never revealed.
September: American singer Paul Robeson tours the Soviet Union, performing for officials and students.
October 25th: US military personnel are withdrawn from Lebanon.
November 10th: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev issues an ultimatum, demanding that the US and its Western allies leave Berlin within six months.
December 14th: The US and its allies reject Khrushchev’s ultimatum to withdraw from Berlin.
January 1st: Fidel Castro wins power in Cuba, overthrowing the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
January 10th: Moscow recognises the new Castro regime in Cuba.
April 4th: NATO also rejects Khrushchev’s ultimatum of November 1958, declaring its intention to protect all occupying powers in West Berlin.
April 15th: US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles resigns, after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He dies on May 24th.
June 23rd: Convicted spy Klaus Fuchs is released from prison in Britain, having served almost nine and a half years of his 14-year sentence. Fuchs takes up residence in East Germany.
July 24th: USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev and US vice-president Richard Nixon meet at an American exhibition in Moscow, where they engage in the ‘Kitchen Debate‘.
September 15th: Nikita Khrushchev begins a controversial fortnight-long visit to the US.
September 19th: During his visit to Los Angeles Khrushchev becomes outraged after being denied access to Disneyland for security reasons.
September 30th: After his visit to the US, Khrushchev meets with Chinese leader Mao Zedong in Beijing.
December 1st: The US, the Soviet Union and ten other nations sign the Antarctic Treaty. It maintains Antarctica for scientific research and outlaws military bases or operations there.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Cold War timeline: 1950 to 1959”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/cold-war-timeline-1950-59/.